Match preview: Canterbury vs. Otago


Thursday, October 13, 2005    Photosport

Although that record places the odds against Wayne Graham’s men, Otago head to Christchurch confident in the knowledge that they have already beaten Canterbury once this season, and have played well enough throughout the entire campaign to repeat that performance.

Both defensively and offensively, there is little to separate the two sides. Canterbury’s four tries during last weekend’s successful Ranfurly Shield defence against Auckland allowed it to finish on 25 tries, one more than Otago while its effort in holding the challengers try-less saw it end the preliminary phase with the best defensive record – its 14 tries conceded being just two less than the number allowed by Otago in its nine games.

Graham says the round robin result gives his team confidence from the knowledge that they can compete but a huge effort is going to be required if Otago is to stage a repeat.

“Canterbury in Christchurch says it all really,” Graham says. “The (Ranfurly) Shield might not be up for grabs, but there really isn’t a bigger challenge in New Zealand provincial rugby at the moment. And they tend to fire up and produce their best at this time of the season.”

Statistics support Graham’s claim. Canterbury has lost just twice at home in the Air New Zealand NPC in the last four seasons (2001-2005) during a period of 27 matches, with both defeats coming against Auckland. It has been in the semifinals eight times, going through to the final on four occasions and won the final three times, most recently in 2004.

While Otago’s pride took a hit last weekend in Hamilton, the team emerged from its 25–13 loss unscathed in terms of injuries. “It wasn’t an ideal dress rehearsal, in terms of performance, but it was better we played like that last week, when we had already qualified, as opposed to in the semifinal itself,” Graham says. “Waikato played the conditions a little better than we did and were hungrier for the result. Hopefully that will be us this week.”

Otago has only played one previous Air New Zealand NPC playoff match in Christchurch, the 2001 final where it lost 30–19. Like Canterbury, it has participated in the semifinals eight times and also boasts a 50 percent record, although they lost their two most recent semifinal matches - in 2002 and 2003.

2005 Round robin match: Otago 24 Canterbury 19 at Dunedin on 10 October
A four-try burst in 12 minutes shortly before halftime proved enough to hand Otago its second Air New Zealand NPC success over Canterbury from the last seven seasons. Canterbury scored the final 19 points of the game, but was held at bay after closing to within a converted try of the win entering the final 10 minutes of play.

Canterbury: Ben Blair, Scott Hamilton, Casey Laulala, Aaron Mauger, Caleb Ralph, Daniel Carter, Andrew Ellis, Mose Tuiali'i, Richie McCaw, Reuben Thorne (captain), Kevin O'Neill, Chris Jack, Campbell Johnstone, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Steven Yates, Vilimoni Delasau, Jamie Nutbrown, Johnny Leo'o, Hayden Hopgood, Ben Franks, Tone Kopelani.

Otago: Craig Clare, Glen Horton, Neil Brew, Seilala Mapusua, Matt Saunders, Nick Evans, Chris Smylie, Grant Webb, Josh Blackie, Craig Newby (captain), James Ryan, Tom Donnelly, Carl Hayman, Anton Oliver, Chris King.
Reserves: Jason Macdonald, Grant Polson, Filipo Levi, Alando Soakai, Toby Morland, Ryan Bambry, Jason Shoemark.

Canterbury v Otago, Christchurch
Kick-off: Friday at 7.35pm
Referee: Steve Walsh (North Harbour)
TAB odds: Canterbury $1.10, Otago $6.25